An old former rail corridor and bridge over the Charles River offers the potential to provide excellent recreational and smart growth opportunities to benefit the residents of Newton, including Lower Falls and adjacent communities. The rail corridor extends from Washington Street in Wellesley across an unimproved century old former rail bridge over the Charles to Concord Street in Newton. The property was ceded to the DCR in 1975 but remains undeveloped and unused.
Conversion of the bridge into a pedestrian trail would provide a walkable green environment to residents, plus access to trails on DCR land along both sides of the Charles River. In addition, a mixed-use retail development proposed on the Wellesley side would become attractive as a walking destination for Newton Lower Falls residents. Easy pedestrian access over the bridge would reduce traffic and parking congestion in the area.
Eventually, a green trail could be extended over the entire length of the former rail corridor stretching all the way to the Riverside MBTA station. This would further enhance walking and bicycling recreation, as well as offer car-free access to public transportation facilities. It would also improve pedestrian access to the Leo J. Martin Golf Course and Weston Ski Track from Lower Falls and from Riverside Station.
A coalition of community groups is working to advance this vision, including the Newton Conservators along with the Newton Bicycle/Pedestrian Task Force, the Wellesley Natural Resources Commission, and the Charles River Watershed Association. The prospect of opening the bridge to pedestrians has already motivated supporters in both Wellesley and Newton to raise funds to be matched by the DCR for detailed design studies. Funding is being sought from the Newton CPC to complete construction of the bridge and its approaches, to be matched by CPA funds from Wellesley and additional grants from the DCR. Finally, an earmark has been placed in the Massachusetts Environmental Bond Bill to cover a design study of the entire corridor for a green trail to Riverside.
The success of other local trails, such as the Minuteman Bikeway in Lexington and Arlington, has shown the dramatic improvements in recreational opportunities and increases in neighborhood value that result. Having a local human-friendly green trail and access to open spaces will benefit neighborhood health, personal interaction, and relaxation. Providing pedestrian connections from Newton Lower Falls to the Wellesley retail development will make it easier for residents to leave their cars at home. Eventually, opening up the entire green trail with access to public transportation at the Riverside MBTA station will further contribute to the city’s goal of reducing our carbon footprint by 20% by the year 2020.
Newton Bicycle/Pedestrian Task Force
The bridge under reconstruction in December 2010